I am about to fail a maths test; arriving late to the lecture venue, the only available seat I find is next to a pale, skinny, unfamiliar young man. His blond hair falls flat against his forehead and before I take my seat he greets me as he would an old friend. Warmed by his greeting, I begin my pre-test ritual of unpacking my pencil case and counting the ten sweets I need to get through any test or exam (ten – no more no less) when he catches me off guard by asking me about me religious orientation.
I am distracted and absorbed in the sweet counting activity as well as entertaining the idea that I should have prepared better for the test when I offer him my off hand response “I am a child of God”. When I finally look up at him after having affirmed that all ten sweets were present and accounted for, the warmth of his smile is replaced with such anger in his eyes that for a moment I am scared of him. He spits at me “How can you call yourself a child of God when you wear that red string across your wrist?”. He’s referring to the faded and rather tatty red string that hangs loosely around my right wrist, the very same one that my grandmother had kept aside for me when she had done her Lutchmee prayer and took special care to tie around my wrist when she next saw me. Now I am far from religious, I wear the red string out of respect to my grandmother more than anything else but I was raised to believe that every religion teaches the same basic principles; to be good and to do good. To the young man beside me, wearing the string and calling myself a child of God was too harsh of a contradiction for his small mind to let go off. He needed to state his piece, to remind me that God had no place for someone with my beliefs and there I sat, dumbfounded, expecting to receive an education but getting schooled in something far greater. Perhaps maths wasn’t going to be the biggest challenge I’d face that day.
Fast forward a few years, I’m delicately stuffing pizza into my mouth when I am warned (for my own benefit of course) that I will most certainly burn in hell. In fact, it is not just me but my entire family will also join me in purgatory. Having a long and torrid affair with pizza it took quite a bit to quell my appetite, but dragging my family into this discussion most certainly achieved that. Don’t get me wrong, I respect those who have faith in their religion and most of those nearest and dearest to me are of a different religious background and this post is not about Hinduism versus Christianity or any other religion. What I take issue with is the level of small-minded, unimaginative crap that makes anyone believe that they’ve got the right to tell me how to live my life. If you really wanted to sell me your fanatical religious ideologies wouldn’t you be better served by showing me what a wonderful person you are, how caring and giving you are and how your religion teaches you to honour human dignity? Instead I am faced with the story about how it doesn’t matter how good I am, if I cannot name myself as you are named, purgatory is inevitable. Maybe I don’t get religion. Maybe I can’t subscribe to the belief that naming myself something automatically makes me “good” or “bad”. Is it not my thoughts and actions and what I endeavour to do that defines whether I am “good” or “bad”. Does the God that you serve simply not see me, not know me? Did the God that you serve not create me? In a world where we should be celebrating our diversity we use it to divide, hurt and condemn. Is that not the real sin here? Is that not the real danger we face? Is that the plan that God had for us?